If You're Paying for All Your Clicks, You're Going to Go Out of Business

Posted by Robin Voter on November 13, 2019

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A recent Google study of 1,000 purchasers showed that 39 percent of surveyed buyers were influenced by a search. As a result, marketers will pay to make sure their brand is noticed. But using paid search engine marketing (SEM) as a standalone tactic is a very tenuous approach at best. In fact, if you rely only on SEM, you'll always be paying for clicks -- and that's a growth strategy that very few brands can overcome.

So, since paid search marketing isn't a sufficient strategy by itself, why is it so popular? And what can marketers do alongside SEM to help win the search engine game? Let's take a look at the search engine marketing landscape and identify the ideal solution.


The Benefits of SEM

It’s not hard to see why paid search engine marketing is such a draw. Why do all the work to optimize your site for a given keyword when you can just bid your way to the top of the search results? Especially when nearly half of all Google users can’t tell the difference between a paid search result and an organic result.

There are many reasons to embrace SEM as an advertising technique:

  • Paid search ads are a top-three driver of conversion rates.
  • They have a 200% rate of return.
  • The click-through-rate on a paid search ad is almost ten times higher than that of a display ad.
  • Best of all, you get full control over who sees your ad, what keywords you’re targeting and how much you’ll spend on your campaign.

What’s especially great is that you get these results right away. Once your ad wins the bid for a given keyword, you’ll immediately start to benefit from your investment. It’s a fantastic blend of control, immediate results and cost-effective market -- at first, anyway.

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The unfortunate reality of SEM is that you always have to feed the machine if you want to keep playing. In other words, if you stop paying for clicks, you can say goodbye to all of the benefits we’ve just discussed. And yet, if you keep paying, that's a big expense to simply maintain the status quo. This puts marketers in a very difficult situation, one that could put the entire future of the business at risk. How can you remain certain of your search engine standing in the face of constant competition and volatile budgets?


The Benefits of SEO

Paid search is a great way to skip to the front of the line in the search engine game, instantaneously providing businesses with significant website traffic boosts and lead conversion opportunities. But as we know, it's not a permanent solution. That's why organic SEO -- also known as search engine optimization -- can be even more beneficial.

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Much like a killer physique or a high credit score, a favorable organic placement in the search engine results reflects a long period of continuous investment. It’s not something that can be easily achieved, but by putting in the work from day one, it’s quite reasonable for a business to expect that they’ll rise in the search rankings over time. It might take a business anywhere from four to six months before they see the needle move, but from there it’s onward and upward.

Businesses looking to incorporate organic SEO should understand the basics behind search engine growth. There’s no exact formula to SEO success, but it’s a combination of the searchable and practical keywords with relevant website content, links from reputable sites, traffic levels and effective tagging. If these elements are in place early and the business builds on these factors over time -- particularly with top-notch, shareable content -- the company’s ranking is sure to rise. In the end, it might take longer to a place of success, but it's a sustainable and cost-effective success that outweighs the long-term prognosis for standalone SEM.


Combining SEM and SEO

There are two schools of thought at play here. One says to pay your way to the top of the results, even if staying at the top is a highly expensive proposition. The other says to go slow-and-steady, playing the long game in anticipation of greater returns down the road. The best approach lies in the middle of both of these strategies.

It turns out that a business needs both paid search and organic search in order to truly succeed. In fact, the two mediums complement each other quite well.

It’s best to think of SEM less as a true search engine strategy and more as a lead generation tool. It’s a tremendous way to get noticed by the exact demographic you’re looking for, searching for the exact phrase you’re trying to capitalize on. But the truth is that paid search engine marketing simply isn’t a viable way to stay on Page 1 of Google’s search engine results over a long period of time.

Using paid search alone, you’re always paying for traffic, and paid traffic can’t last forever. At some point, the money runs out, your budget tightens up or a competitor takes over your listing. If you’re a marketer in that position, you’re stuck.

However, if you have organic SEO as working hand in hand with your paid search tactics, you’ll always be a player in the search engine rankings. Organic SEO is synonymous with great content, reliability and trust between your business and your customers. And while Google’s algorithms are notoriously fluid, the one thing Google always values is compelling and reputable sites.

Consumers feel the same way -- more than 40 percent of revenue is derived from organic traffic. What’s more, SEO drives five times as much brand traffic as SEM. Yes, it takes longer to get these results, but they’re well worth striving toward.

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The ideal solution, of course, is to use both organic SEO and paid SEM in conjunction with one another. Use paid search for all of its wonderful capabilities -- audience targeting, keyword research and instant visibility are all factors that you won’t get with organic SEO. At the same time, build your site’s organic search reputation by optimizing your site for mobile viewers, producing quality content and incorporating your keywords into your site’s web copy, page names and meta tags. This dual-pronged approach will give you the best of both worlds, and it ensures your success on the search engines, both in the short term and the long term.

Topics: SEM, SEO, search engine marketing, search engine optimization

Robin Voter

Written by Robin Voter

Robin Voter strategically develops martech campaigns into revenue-growing assets for B2B and considered purchase clients. Her background includes marketing automation, content strategy, project management, SEO, PPC, and PR. Robin combines her tactical know-how with strategic vision and leadership as Icon's Director of Strategy & Analytics.